Knowing when to get out of the way

I have twice had the experience of taking over a choral program, and on the second occasion, my earlier experiences were crucial in forming a program where the students eventually could perform independently.

The first choral group, which I inherited about 12 years ago, was in great shape, and I had to do very little to maintain the quality of this group. They knew how to rehearse, they knew how much time it took to learn the music, they knew how to arrange, they knew how to connect with an audience, they knew what kinds of pieces worked and what didn't, and they also knew how to sing. Furthermore, the group had processes for selecting new members, for organizing themselves, for recruiting, and for connecting with the community. The group was a known entity, and were in constant demand. As a result, I had little to do but keep them on track, to nudge and guide when necessary. They were a great hit, and really enjoyed their time in this group.

The second group I took over in a different school was not in good shape. They had none of the skills, processes, or knowledge of the first group. They rarely performed in public, and expectations and demand for the group were negligible. However, when I took over this group, I knew what it should look like, and set about building this same set of skills and habits as the first group. This was a difficult process, and took a lot of work on my part.

However, after seven months, they performed at a girls' school. For the first time, I stepped back from the group, and they killed it. I could barely hear the group sing because the girls were screaming with joy and excitement. On the bus on the way back to school, the buzz was the same as had been with the first group: they were excited and couldn't wait to do it again. This second group still has a way to go, but the ball is rolling: they are now seeing what I saw, and it is getting close to the point whereI begin to get out of the way and let them experience doing it themselves.

My journey as a teacher is about helping students to build the tools, habits, and behaviors to be independent. It is about instilling a sense of responsibility, an understanding of what it means to be committed to something, an recognition of the importance of integrity, and an awareness of the needs and dreams of others. It is about helping students to be active in their learning; they should not be receiving their learning from me, but should be partners with me in their academic, social, and physical development.

What stands out for me when I think about all the stories I have heard of what we do as master teachers of boys is the centrality of the relationships we have with our students. The content, curriculum, even teacher methodologies are secondary: it primarily about the relationship of one human with another.